The 430 million year old arthropod fossil provides insight into a unique strategy for keeping its kids safe.
Researchers have discovered an ancient creature that used to have a unique technique for protecting its babies from predators. The animal carried its kids around in the tiny capsules tied to its body which would appear like tiny, swirling kites as it moved.
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The small creature Aquilonifer Spinosus, was an arthropod that lived around 430 million years ago and was unearthed in Herefordshire, England. The creature was blind and could grow not more than half an inch long. It was covered by a shield like structure and swam ancient oceans with a variety of other animals including sponges, worms, snails, sea spiders and shrimp-like creatures.
There is only one specimen of such arthropod has discovered so far and it is revealing interesting details about parenthood in extinct crustaceans.
“Modern crustaceans employ a variety of strategies to protect their eggs and embryos from predators – attaching them to limbs, holding them under the carapace, or enclosing them within a special pouch until they are old enough to be released – but this example is unique,” said lead author Derek Briggs, a paleontologist from Yale University. “Nothing is known today that attaches the young by threads to its upper surface.”
Using virtual reconstruction techniques, researchers were able to identify 10 juveniles attached to the body of tiny arthropod, in varying stages of development and tethered with thin, flexible strings. The capsules attached to the strings were looking like flattened lemons.
Initially, researchers considered the possibility that these juveniles may be attached to the host like parasites for eating food. But then they realized that they were not in a favorable position for accessing nutrients.
The name of the tiny creature came from “aquila,” meaning eagle or kite, and "fer," meaning carry but formally it is known as “The Kite Runner” as researchers wanted to pay homage to 2003 bestselling novel of the same name.
“We have named it after the novel by Khalid Hosseini due to the fancied resemblance of the juveniles to kites,” Briggs said. “As the parent move around, the juveniles would have looked like decorations or kites attached to it.
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“It shows that arthropods evolved a variety of brooding strategies beyond those around today – perhaps this strategy was less successful and became extinct.”